The age of b-sides is not, mercifully, dead (the just-released Iron & Wine single for “Boy With a Coin” for instance); however, many artists are starting to take different approaches for releasing non-album material, perhaps because of their own innovative ideas or at the behest of major record labels, who claim to be having enough of a problem selling full-length discs in the mp3 era, never mind CD singles. Who knows what the future holds in store for Pearl Jam after its J Records debut featured not one accompanying single with an b-side, despite several cruel teases name-dropped in pre-album promotional materials. I spent quite a bit of time a few weeks ago seeking some of these tracks out, I won’t name them now and get all riled up again.
“Leatherman”, one of the few original b-sides not to be included on 2003’s Lost Dogs compilation, exists fully and happily in later years of the golden age of CD singles. If you want the studio version, you’re going to have to track down a copy of the “Given to Fly” single. It’s also notable as an example of a b-side that was recorded specifically for that purpose. Was it ever going to find its way onto Yield? Not a chance, but bands often record b-side material intentionally, to give at least a small (and loyal) audience to their experiments, in-jokes, etc. “Leatherman” displays Vedder’s growing fondness for pop melodies and the ’60s garage rock that preceded ’70s punk. Too lightweight and specialized in its theme for an album (unless that album was full of stylistically similar quasi-superhero theme songs for obscure historical characters), it nonetheless got a chunk of the band’s studio time. The results speak for themselves, for better or worse according to taste. I find the song wonderfully cheeky, and despite its bizarre concept, relatively unselfconscious. I remember feeling heartened by “Leatherman” in the winter of ’97/’98 after I had just started college, that the band could feel so relaxed and upbeat to record such a nerdy, fun little song, and it heartens me still.